Kalashnikov Barb Pits Czech President Against Prime Minister

  • Zeman, Sobotka at odds on approach to Russia, refugees
  • Premier says president's remarks have frightened his family

Czech politicians censured President Milos Zeman for suggesting the prime minister could be taken out with a Russian assault rifle in comments that added fuel to simmering animosity between the two leaders.

When asked how Premier Bohuslav Sobotka could be removed from office at a meeting with supporters in the town of Tisnov u Brna in the country’s southeast, Zeman said: “There is only one democratic possibility, and that’s a free election. An undemocratic option would be a Kalashnikov.”

Sobotka, a moderate Social Democrat, called the barb “stupid and useless” on Tuesday and chided the president for scaring his friends and family, including his two school-aged children. Interior Minister Milan Chovanec branded Zeman’s speech “tasteless” on Twitter, and the leaders of both houses of the parliament called the comment unacceptable for a president and warned against inciting hatred in Czech society.

The spat underpins a growing divide between the two leaders, who disagree on issues ranging from the European Union and NATO member’s treatment of refugees to its relationship with Russia. While Sobotka’s Social Democrats backed Zeman’s presidential bid in 2013, he criticized the president last year for appearing at a rally of an ultra right-wing group evoking xenophobia and calling for a total ban for refugees.

Zeman’s spokesman, Jiri Ovcacek, said the president didn’t call for anyone to be eliminated, and his words should be interpreted as hyperbole, he told news service CTK.

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